Choice, Change and Chicks

Haven’t we heard this before? Margaret Wente’s recent column explains the dearth of women managers as an issue of individual choice. “What glass ceiling? It’s the mommy track” trots out that tired explanation to let us know that not only are women not being excluded from the boardrooms, it’s that they want it this way!

According to Wente, what’s important is that women want to have things that are incompatible with a business career. Like children, for instance. Apparently all those male managers are childless. Because having kids is systemically incompatible with business success. Clearly! Since anything otherwise would be unfair and the system isn’t unfair, is it, Ms. Wente? Funny, but it seems I’ve read lots of research that shows that fatherhood in a management-track employee can be seen as a sign of stability and suitability whereas motherhood is a sign that woman’s just not committed. Because those maternity leaves are a real hassle, I guess!

Wente also suggests that maybe it’s because full-time managerial work is haaaaard and women don’t want to do that. Instead, they’re making rational choices to not go for that promotion. Tracy Robinson, a successful executive at CPF who’s also the mother of four kids? Apparently she’s just craaa-azy and no smart woman would want to do what she’s doing. That’s why she’s one of a tiny number of women executives, says Wente, while pointing to the recent study that shows three-quarters of Dutch women working part-time.

I have a radical suggestion. Maybe all of these outcomes are a tiny bit influenced by that old patriarchal equilibrium that criticizes women for not being like men or for being unwomanly when they act like men?

Nah. Couldn’t be. It’s just women’s nature. When confronted with all the choices in a perfectly equitable socio-economic system, women just say “that’s man’s work!” and go put on their pearls, get ready to do some vacuuming and pop a few bon-bons as they enjoy their work-life balance.

Wente also thinks this will all only change, get this, when women change. See? The problem’s all on our side. If we just manned up, we’d all be in the executive suites, sure as shooting! But since we just make these silly choices, we have no one but ourselves to blame when we aren’t all sitting in that spiffy corner office at the top of some office tower.

Now for a refreshing contrast? Ms. Robinson, that manager-mom at CPR? She’s on record with quite a different viewpoint from Wente:

Tracy Robinson, a vice president at Canadian Pacific, says companies need to institute a plan to ensure qualified women are recognized with promotions.

“More than 50 per cent of the workforce — the emerging workforce, the emerging talent — is female,” Robinson said. “If you haven’t put some thought into how to make your environment friendly to women and other visible minorities then you’re at a competitive disadvantage.” (

Guess whose analysis I find more compelling?


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